It is truly a beautiful moment when uncertainties, possibilities, and individual efforts come together into a single, vibrant entity. Such was the moment when I sat down with 40 other Olin students and faculty to enjoy a locally-sourced, vegan dinner that had been about a month in the making. As co-presidents of Grow: Olin's Sustainability Group, James ('12) and I had envisioned this Fall Harvest Banquet as an enjoyable event, infused with many of the group's ideas about holistic sustainability.
Grow was created last Fall in an attempt to bring more unity to the many sustainability efforts on Olin's campus. Previous sustainability-related student groups had fizzled out as their leadership graduated from Olin, and we wanted to create a strong body that would provide support and continuity to the ecosystem of projects, courses, and events in this broad area. Grow's first year has seen a number of successes (which I will certainly write more about in a later post), and the Harvest Banquet was one of the most ambitious events we have put on to date.
In my ongoing search for insight into the root causes of
(un)sustainability, I came across the following definition proposed by
John Ehrenfeld in Sustainability by Design: "Sustainability is the possibility that humans and other life will flourish
on Earth forever." Flourish has a very different meaning than "survive"
or "exist," and it communicates the necessity to address social,
cultural, and ethical well-being as inextricably linked to environmental
This is the definition of sustainability that inspired our Fall Harvest
Banquet. Through purchasing our produce directly from local organic
farmers, we were more directly connected to the growing process and
aware of its environmental impact. Through choosing to make the entire
meal free of animal products, we brought up many of the ethical
questions relating to the U.S. food industry. Through bringing our
community together to cook and eat mindfully, we were further connected
to the wonderful people surrounding us.
Seeing the many smiling faces around me, the exhaustion from
12 hours of continuous cooking vanished and was replaced with deep
gratitude. There were many moments in the previous weeks when I had
doubted that everything would come together, but Olin students, faculty,
and staff generously donated their time and energy to make our vision a
reality: they biked over 30 pounds of produce from Boston to Olin, set
up a warmly-lit corner of the Academic Center to seat 40 people, let us
use the Olin kitchen to cook a cauldron of stew and massive trays of
roasted vegetables, ran around campus in search of plants and vases for
decoration, set up a record player and speakers to play some excellent
Surrounded by these people and delighting in the meal, I thought to myself: "This is flourishing."